Perhaps I am not alone in this—this being a tendency to feel both unsettled and melancholy after a few hours spent in the company of well-meaning but still-distant relations.
The fact is, I’ve spent an uncanny amount of my life surrounded by people who’ve either indulged my eccentricities (i.e., my family), embraced them (i.e., my friends), or accepted them (i.e., my colleagues). I’ve experienced little to no resistance to the satisfaction of my whims—something which has permitted a considerable degree of career and lifestyle experimentation—and only on very rare occasions have I been called upon to justify myself or my choices.
All of which means that I get quite taken aback when people don’t take what I do or what I occupy myself with at face value—something that typically happens in extended family gatherings. Only then, in the face of blank looks or expectant stares, does it occur to me that I don’t quite fit the mold, that I’ve violated some implicit standard, that I have, in fact, inconvenienced my listener by eluding easy categorization, and that I must now atone for this sin by providing a plausible account of my motives and values—a rendering that always ends up sounding hopelessly defensive to my hypersensitive ears.
And it doesn’t help that I can see the world through their perspective—largely because it’s a perspective that coincides with my own yearning for coherence. Despite repeated attempts, I cannot conjure a linear narrative from the multiple trajectories of my life, cannot give a clear-cut answer to the deceptively-simple question what do you do? (For I do/have done many things: most of them incompatible; some of them downright contradictory.) Perhaps it would have helped if I were unambiguously confused—if I could have at least fit that stereotype—but even there (as elsewhere) things are markedly indistinct. I’m too lucid and too cogent; surprisingly competent and just as surprisingly . . . whole.
And maybe, at the end of it, I’m simply projecting my own self-judgment, merely attributing to others the expectations I’d had of myself at a much earlier age: of possessing unwavering purpose and holding unswerving direction. For nearly thirty years, the notion of constancy was my ideal. For the next thirty, perhaps I should consider the notion of authenticity instead.